There’s an unconscious injured person trapped in a tree. You are the first responder and have only six minutes to get someone to call 911, then climb the tree and get the person to the ground. Go!
It’s called an aerial rescue and it’s one of the events that an Olds woman will be competing in soon to try and win an international tree-climbing competition in Texas.
Kali Alcorn, a certified arborist, qualified tree risk assessor and landscape technician, admits she is really nervous going up against other competitors from around the world.
It’s Alcorn’s first time in the tree-climbing competition. She qualified by winning the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) Prairie Chapter competition in Winnipeg last September.
Over 60 professional tree climbers from 18 countries will compete in San Antonio on April 2 and 3 in the event organized by the ISA. This is the event’s 40th year.
Competition rules follow industry safety standards. On the first day competitors undertake five different events involving work-related tasks. The next day the men and women with the highest scores move on to the Masters’ Challenge.
Alcorn, 29, has been in B.C. for a few months during a slow work season, staying with friends and training intensely. A lot of that involves staying fit by doing hot yoga and running, and working on her upper body strength, which is needed in the job.
Now that she has the basics and fitness down, she is working on her confidence.
Alcorn moved from Ontario in 2009 to Olds, where she took the bachelor of applied science, majoring in landscape management at Olds College. She got interested in tree climbing when she started working for a tree company. (Yes she hears it all the time her last name should have been Acorn.)
The first time she was ever in a climbing situation, one of her colleagues gave her a little demonstration.
“He said ‘OK we’re up here now, swing from this branch to that branch,’ and I just did it. I just went for it. He said ‘You’re a natural and you’re gonna rock at this if you pursue it.’” And she did.
It seems heights aren’t a problem for Alcorn. She’s done zip-lining, bungee jumping, sky diving and mountain climbing.
“I’ve always been excited about being in ropes. Heights don’t really scare me. And power tools too! Hey, who thought there’s such jobs as climbing and you get to use chain saws at the same time!
“There’s a difference between no fear and knowing fear, because it is dangerous. It’s one of the most dangerous occupations out there … safety is very important,” she said.
The competition height they go to is 50 to 60 feet. She’s climbed well over 100 feet on West Coast trees and in tropical trees in Panama. In Alberta she usually gets up 60 to 70 feet when working on a tree.
In Alberta and the rest of the Prairies, people want to preserve their trees because they’re precious, Alcron has found. Arborists deal with tree problems such as ones that might fall on a house or in need of pruning. These “urban foresters” can perform surgeon-like mitigating measures. Sometimes a tree can be saved, sometimes not.
Alcorn finds the work fascinating because not only does she need to be an “industrial athlete,” but she is also a mathematician, physicist and sailor (for all the rope knots), she said. “It’s very complicated … It’s a challenge in every way. … And you’re outside. It’s just awesome.”
It has traditionally been a man’s industry but there are more women getting involved in aboriculture, Alcorn said.
In Texas, besides the aerial rescue, one of the other events she will be doing is a speed climb to the top of the tree and down. “You have to monkey up the tree as fast as you can and ring a bell.”
The aerial rescue involves a dummy in the tree. The work climb event has Alcorn installed in the top of the tree canopy, and then a bell will ring and off she goes in a timed event where she will make her way down several stations until finally zipping down and landing on a target.
“It’s really fun.”
This year’s ISA Prairie Chapter competition is at Olds College, on June 18 and 19.